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Ford Motor Co. displays a new 2021 Ford F-150 pickup truck at the Rouge Complex in Dearborn, Michigan, U.S. Sept. 17, 2020.REBECCA COOK/Reuters

Ford Motor Co on Friday continued to show signs of a recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic as demand for sports utility vehicles and pickup trucks helped boost third-quarter sales in the United States.

The U.S. auto sector has climbed back quicker than other industries, but automakers had a hand in that with aggressive incentives like zero-for-84 months financing, payment deferrals and job assurance programs.

Ford posted a 5% fall in U.S. auto sales for the third quarter but said a continuing recovery from pandemic-induced lockdowns helped it record better sales compared with the second quarter.

The No.2 U.S. automaker, which announces its quarterly sales volumes a day later than the rest of the industry, said it sold 551,796 vehicles in the country in the quarter, down from 580,251 a year earlier.

Its sales were, however, up 27.2% when compared with the preceding quarter.

“The seasonally adjusted sales pace for September demonstrated yet another sequential improvement for the industry, and a return to near pre-virus levels ... a print 16.4mn is not far off the 17mn level we saw from 2015-19,” Credit Suisse analyst Dan Levy said.

“It remains to be seen if this level of sales can be sustained near-term.”

Bigger rival General Motors Co reported a 10% decline in sales on Thursday and said the auto sales have been even more resilient and made a substantial rebound in the third quarter.

While overall industry sales in the quarter were down, the trend was positive as demand increased each month, especially among retail consumers for high-profit SUVs and pickup trucks.

Sales for its F-Series pickup-truck rose 3.5% in the quarter when compared with a year ago, marking its best pickup sales since 2005, Ford said.

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